Well, I figure I need to write this out now that the cat is sorta already out of the bag and all. Clear up some details and such.
Back in October we received a certified letter from Duke with a proposed substation development about 1/2 mile to the north of our house. This would then create the need to run a new 110kv line from the substation to an already established line 1 mile to the south of our house putting our house directly in the middle.
Unfortunately, we work full time and the letter required a signature upon receipt so it sat at the post office. The first Saturday after notification, I ran to the local post office to retrieve it only to find out our local office is only open from 9-10 am on Saturdays and it was 11 am. By the time I was able to get the letter, the original town hall meeting was past.
Luck was on our side this time as hurricane Matthew hit the night of the meeting delaying it to a date we could attend. And attend we did.
I’ve never been to a town hall meeting before and had no idea what to expect. Duke was out in full force with the church room filled with various stations: there was a large blown up map of the proposal, a real estate specialist, the engineer for the towers, the engineer for the substation, an interactive online map to zoom in on your property, a table set up to write letters of concern, and various other employees scattered around to answer questions.
I started right away with the map proposal. There are 10 different routes the new power line could take and two of them involve us. I really wanted to gather as much information as I could before I got all Doomsday about the project, but what I learned didn’t really help matters in that regard.
Here is what I learned that night:
1) The line would have a 68′ easement with restrictions for what plant material could live inside it. Small fruit trees, vegetables, and native grasses were all approved. Any trees outside the 68′ easement that posed a potential to fall within it would also be cut down. Livestock is permitted to graze within the easement.
2) They spray an nonspecific plant killer, basically Roundup, along the entire easement to kill all vegetation.
3) No structures can be within the easement. Fences are permitted to cross the easement at a 30-90 degree angle, but can not run parallel within it. Any fence must have a gate and Duke provided a key.
4) Duke would have 24/7 access to the easement without providing prior notice.
With that information, I began to ask questions.
First and foremost, our driveway was within the proposed easement and would run parallel within it. I pointed this out and was told “well you can’t have a driveway there” Uh huh. Well, my driveway already exists so….
The engineer pulled the real estate guy into the conversation at this point and he attempted to talk in circles while I continued to ask very pointed questions. First he told me ” Duke has to leave your property the same as they found it so if you have a driveway to access your property, Duke would need to create a new one for your use”.
And where would this new access point be?
The issue here is that our front entrance is narrow. Someone must have split off and sold a 4.5 acre parcel of road front property years ago as ours now enters via the drive and then fans out behind it. The only way the driveway could be moved would be to pave the front 3 acre pasture but even at that we would lose the electric gate that provides us security. When I pointed this out and the loss of pasture/hay it would cause I was told “horses can graze in the easement” Uh huh…but they can’t graze on asphalt which is what the entire front 3 acres would become so….
Continue lines of BS and circular talk.
My second question was about the access Duke would have to this part of our property. What if our horses were grazing when they came in and they got out? Response “Yeah, that does happen and Duke will reimburse you the cost of the animal” Uh huh…and how much is my emotional destruction when you kill my equine partner worth? Or worse yet, how much is Duke prepared to pay when a car hits a 1300lb horse and everyone dies?
My last question was about the pay out. If they wreck 6 acres of my land, do they pay the $12,000 an acre we paid a year ago? I doubt it. The real estate guy was vague. I told him I’d gladly let him run the line for 25% commission off all money earned on the line. He wasn’t up for that. Then I told him he could have the entire place. Build the substation right here. Buy me out for what we paid plus any increase in value for our upgrades and we will move away. Nope on that too.
I had other issues. If they took out all the trees at the top of the hill which they proposed to do, would they pay the $10,000 to put in a horse shelter since they removed all natural shelter? Would they pay to board all three horses during construction since the entire property would be open and fences removed during the project? What about the run off of Roundup into the pasture killing off swathes of grazable grass and into the pond at the bottom of the hill killing the ecosystem and poisoning the fish my son catches and eats?
After hitting all the stations, speaking with everyone and gathering facts, we ended the night by writing letters to Duke stating all the above concerns not to mention the aesthetic loss and the complete destruction of wildlife habitat (owls, osprey and foxes live in those woods) and loss of property value. They ended the meeting saying that the line would be chosen in the first quarter of 2019, land purchased in the second quarter and construction to begin in 2020 and last through 2022.
Not one to sit on my laurels, I immediately reached out to the real estate agent who sold us the property and the attorney who did the closing to a) find out what our rights were if we could prove the seller knew this in advance and didn’t disclose it and b) any information about ways to fight it.
In regards to a) Duke didn’t send any information out until the letter we had received so if the seller had insider information we can’t prove it. As for b – he recommended reaching out to Forever Upstate, a local conservation agency. I called them the very next day, but they were a dead end stating that Duke can plow through even conservation granted land. I did learn from them that I can create an agreement with Duke to self manage the easement which can prevent the use of Roundup and allow a healthier environment.
My next step was to reach out to a local land use attorney, but again I reached a dead end. He has fought eminent domain cases for nearly two decades and unless we have federal/state backing for a historic property or some endangered species on the land, we were basically SOL. He is more than happy to take our case if they come our way to help increase the purchase price and has been very successful in that regard. His name is in my back pocket in the event it gets that far.
At that point I felt like I was at the end of the road until Bette messaged me about another attorney who was involved a few years ago in a very large case against Duke and won. I immediately contacted him, but you guessed it – dead end. While he was a part of the project, he only did so because his own house was going to be 900′ from a 50 acre new station. He did give me a new avenue though. Apparently, Duke needs approval from the Public Service Committee and that won’t happen until the route is finalized. This gives me a chance to get the entire project shut down or at the least convince them to go another way.
I’ve printed out the formal protest letter and we will be hitting up all the houses on our route to get them to write one of their own. His project was stopped due to 700 letters and 50 people speaking out and there is no way we will have that many, but anything is better than nothing.
I won’t go down without a fight.
The next step for Duke is to come out and do a land survey with us present to point out all our issues. The only two ways the line can run through our property are to either a) take out all the trees along the big pasture hill top or b) run right through the pasture. Both have pros and cons. Personally, if they have to do it at all, I’d prefer the tree route. It ruins the natural shelter our horses currently have, but will have the least impact on the actual pasture and would make resale easier as it would be barely on the property line. IF they run through the center of the pasture, the trees are maintained but who wants to look at high power lines right through the middle of the yard? The construction destruction, noise and loss of pasture use would be worse going that way.
I’m crossing my fingers and going into the meeting armed with all the expenses Duke would have to pay if they came our route hoping that it will convince them to go another, cheaper way.
It devastating, stressful and pisses me off that I am having to do this after 15 years of saving and planning and dreaming of a farm. I love this property. I love the way it is laid out, the large pastures that ensure year round grass when rotated appropriately, the sunrises behind the hilltop trees and the sunsets over the fishing pond. My heart breaks as I envision the view, the loss of use and the destruction of a high power line running through the heart of it. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was tucked away at the back or came through a small corner. This would run the entire length of the property.
We will see how Saturday goes.